Our first 20 years: How it all Began and the origins and early development of Rubicon Heritage Services!
We are 20 years old this week and what a journey it has been!
Our journey can be best compared to a rollercoaster ride. The enthusiasm of being a start-up in 2000 soon led to the highs of massive growth during the Celtic Tiger years, only to be followed by the lows of the deep recession which followed it. We spent a tough few years building our offering in the UK through the ups and downs of the Brexit years and finally, just to add to the adrenaline rush, a pandemic to keep us on our toes!
Rubicon was born in Edinburgh one November night in 2000 over a few beers between Colm Moloney and Jerry O’Sullivan. At the time Jerry was a freelance archaeologist and Colm was a Director of Headland Archaeology. Headland was one of the larger archaeological companies based in Scotland. Both proud Cork men, the decision (after a few scoops) was to return to the Rebel county and get stuck into some archaeology on the many road developments taking place across the country. In the cold light of day, a business proposal was prepared and presented to the Board of Headland Archaeology Ltd and it was agreed that an Irish subsidiary should be set up. The new subsidiary was initially called Headland Archaeology (Ireland) Ltd and was eventually rebranded as Rubicon Heritage Services Ltd. Jerry moved on to the NRA before the company started trading while Colm, supported by the board of Headland, headed back to his hometown of Midleton in Co. Cork and started developing the new business. The rest, as they say, is archaeology!
Over the last two decades the company has grown to be a dominant presence in the commercial archaeology sector in Ireland and, more recently, in the UK. We pride ourselves in constant innovation to improve our offering. Our tag line Managing Risk, Delivering Quality has never been more relevant, and we are constantly pushing the boundaries of what we can provide for our clients.
The company is led by an energetic and experienced board of directors who have been with the company for many years and steered Rubicon through both highs and lows. Here are their stories:
Trish Long, Managing Director
Little did I realise when I took a 3-week site assistant job to dig a burnt mound during the wet December of 2003- that it would be the start of a journey that has led to me becoming MD of the company 17 years later! After those initial 3 weeks I was thrilled to be offered a 6-month contract with the company, and from that point I was given amazing opportunities to gain experience and develop my skills. Soon I became a permanent member of staff and went on to become licence eligible in 2006. I was fortunate to spend some fantastic years on road schemes around the country during the Celtic Tiger years, where we encountered plenty of archaeology and had a hard-working but fun-loving team of people on board. During this period, I did a stint as post-excavation manager with the company and also began to take on more complex project management roles. I am very grateful that that the senior managers within the company mentored me along the way.
Sadly, as the boom years came to an end, I had to say goodbye to many colleagues- many of whom left archaeology for good. But I was one of the few who went on to cling to what remained of the industry. I was, by this stage, a senior project manager with the task of completing big projects on the tightest of budgets. It was tough going but I was supported by the other remaining long-serving employees and somehow, we managed to pull through. My efforts were rewarded by an appointment to the Board of Directors of Rubicon in 2012, and with the fact that we were able to keep the doors open for myself and others who were reliant on Rubicon for our livelihoods.
The road out the other side of the recession has been a bumpy one! With no stability in the level of work we could secure in Ireland we turned our attentions to the UK. I spent 2013 in Wales and enjoyed getting to know the industry on the other side of the water. It has been satisfying to see our operation grow steadily in the UK since then. When Red River Archaeology Group formed to improve our offering in the UK, I became a director of the that company also.
The past year has seen one of the biggest challenges of my career to date as I have been deeply involved in our work on the HS2 project in the UK and in navigating our way through working during a pandemic.
I was honoured to be appointed as Managing Director of Rubicon and Vice CEO of the Red River Group in 2019 and to be in that position as Rubicon celebrates its 20-year anniversary, and I look forward to many more successful years to come.
Ross Macleod, Sales and Operations Director
My first encounter with this Cork mob was when I was working for the engineers on the N6 Galway to Ballinasloe Scheme way back in 2005. These were the days before ‘Google Translate’ and I must admit there were moments in a couple of meetings where I had to guess the correct response (yes/no/maybe/let me get back to you on that). The following year I was lucky enough to become licence eligible and, in the summer, started my first project (N7 Limerick to Nenagh) with the then Headland Archaeology (Ireland). By the end of the year I was fully fluent in ‘Cork’ and was even starting to insert ‘like’ at the end of each sentence….like.
The subsequent years were filled with more road schemes and with the support and mentoring of the senior management and admin team I progressed from Site Manager to Project Manager on a number of these projects. These were the busy years and we set about expanding the business by opening offices in Dublin and Galway with dedicated and highly professional teams in each location. That was all before the Celtic Tiger bubble blew up in our collective faces. As a result we had to close the Galway office and make a large number of staff redundant across the company- personally I struggled with this and it’s an aspect of senior management I don’t think I’ll ever get used to.
From this point we were a very much a leaner company with the remaining staff taking on multiple different roles to enable us to keep the doors open. I shifted further away from Project Management and focused more on sales, a role that I continue in still. Due to the diminished market in Ireland we turned more to the UK for opportunities with some notable successes in South Wales. It appeared at the time that this was the most viable option to keep the business going but then David Cameron threw in his Brexit grenade. Again, collective sleaves were rolled up across the company and everyone contributed to keep the business going.
Thankfully, we have moved on from these dark days and the outlook is certainly more positive. We restructured the company and included a UK subsidiary ‘Red River Archaeology’ which is growing under the expert direction of its board of management. I have been privileged to serve on the Rubicon Heritage board and more recently the Group board of management, a position which I certainly didn’t envisage myself being in back in 2006.
Over the last 14 years since joining the company there have been a load of miles, a load of early mornings, a load of late nights, a load of sore heads and a load of breakfast rolls. It certainly has been a rollercoaster and I must pay respect to all our current and past staff whose hard work, diligence and professionalism have enabled the company to maintain its success. Roll on the next 20 years but I might need to swap to veggie rolls!
Bernie Carney, Business Support Director
I started my career as a General Operative at Millipore Ireland BV. I was soon promoted to Team Lead and then Production Shift Supervisor. I gained lots of supervisory/management experience while working across those roles and this stood to me for many years to come. I followed that with a period of self-employment and then moved into a Counter Manager position with a luxury cosmetics brand in Brown Thomas, Cork. The sales turnover on that account was high and was being challenged by an explosion of new, fashionable, trendy, media bolstered cosmetics houses such as MAC, Bobbi Brown, Laura Mercier and more. Celebrity endorsements became essential marketing requirements and keeping an eye to media and trends became a huge part of the business. This signalled the beginning of the PR and social media storm that is now the backbone of every company’s marketing strategy. I’m not sure I would have understood back then how Archaeology might be sold in that way but like every other product or service, its needs its stage and spotlight moments!
Following my time at Brown Thomas, I moved on from working with selling luxury brands to selling a luxury service. The Celtic Tiger was in its adolescence and luxury and decadence were king. I worked at a 5 star Spa with a large team and I experienced queues and waiting lists I’d never seen the likes of before. I loved the buzz and hype of it all but with a large family in the balance and newspaper columns bulging with job opportunities, I decided to try and move away from weekend and evening working. It was there that my journey started in commercial archaeology.
I spotted a newspaper advert for an Administration Assistant position (Monday to Friday) and decided to gamble on an application. I hadn’t worked in an administration role per se but there had been massive administrative requirements in all the roles I’d worked at to date. I was very pleased and maybe a bit shocked to be offered the position. The learning curve was not gentle, there were times that I felt like I was climbing Everest but I absolutely loved the many daily (sometimes hourly!!) challenges. The equivalent of the queues and waiting lists at the Spa was happening in Archaeology, except it was roads waiting to be built. It was manic ……. every week we were growing staff numbers tenfold. We had wonderful teams of archaeologists from all across the world working on multiple sites around Ireland. My role developed a strong HR slant and I soon became responsible for the HR function of the business and ultimately the entire Business Support department.
Part of the administration function of my job led me to taking minutes at Board Meetings. It was always more than just a minute taking exercise for me, I loved learning about the commercial archaeology sector through the management prism. One of the most complimentary things I can say about Rubicon’s Board of Management is that I was never treated as just a minute taker. I was always spoken to as though I was member of the Board, while I was in the Board Room. My opinions were often sought, and I admired the collaborative nature of communications across all tiers of the business.
I have attended a huge number of Board Meetings since starting work at Rubicon. The workings of the Board, when I look back over the years, were sometimes as exciting as watching a soap opera. There has been hilarity, sadness, puzzlement, frustration, suspense and fear in bucket loads but the outstanding vibe to me has been one of high energy. I have never met any other group of people who are as determined to innovate, reshape and resolve issues until there is no option left but to succeed.
In light of that, I am extremely happy to be a Company Director at Rubicon Heritage Services as it reaches it’s 20-year anniversary. The temptation is there to say ‘how in the name of all that is holy, did we manage that’ but the answer is in the paragraph above. The desire to succeed is deep rooted.
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